In Music

Federici talks Wisconsin, Springsteen and new solo disc

Last year Danny Federici, integral member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band since 1973, recorded Sweet, an album of mostly original compositions. This week the album is re-released this week on V2 Records. The album, retitled "Out of a Dream," consists of piano- and saxophone-driven instrumentals, mostly of original compositions. The album's cover is an incredibly cool high-contrast close-up photo of Federici superimposed over a late-night New York cityscape.

Federici's lovely accordion playing powers "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," one of Springsteen's most touching recordings. Federici's brightens up powerful Springsteen songs like "Thunder Road" and "Hungry Heart" with his beautiful glockenspiel playing, and his devastating Hammond B-3 organ parts turns good Springsteen songs like "Racing in the Street" and "I'm on Fire" into masterpieces.

"Out of a Dream" is Federici's second album as a bandleader; in 1997 he recorded another all-instrumental album called Flemington, named after Federici's New Jersey hometown, released by Music Masters Jazz. In 2001, Hip-O Records re-released "Flemington" as "Danny Federici." Federici describes the new album as smooth jazz, which I don't dig, though the pretty piano melody of the album's opening song, "Light Is Calling," written by Federici, deserves a listen.

OMC: Why haven't I heard of "Flemington" before this interview?

DF: I still love that album. It's a great record, but it was a little too heavy, a little too rockish. I used Nils Lofgren on guitar (and Federici's and Lofgren's E Street Band-mate Garry Tallent on bass), and I don't think radio knew what to do with me. You have to fit into a certain genre, you know.

("Flemington" had) more rockish guitar, more funky stuff. I'm going to play some of it live; it really sounds good. Matter of fact, a lot of the music on the new record I'm going to hype up a little bit too, because I don't want to put people to sleep in the audience.

OMC: Will you be playing live to support this album?

DF: Yeah, we're just waiting to see how the record's doing, where people want me to come. It's a little different in smooth jazz than it is in rock 'n' roll, because it's more based around airplay than it is about going out with the band and getting people to buy the records. It's much more about what they hear in their cars or when they're taking it easy at home in the evening.

OMC: Is it difficult, when playing with a pianist as gifted as Roy Bittan, to keep from stepping on each other's parts?

DF: It's a good question. Bruce has been an unbelievable boss when it comes to delegating parts and being a sort of director. That way, we'll be in the studio and Bruce will go, "Yeah! That's great, Roy! You should play that!", and then, "Danny, that's great; you should play that!" That way, you say, "Fine, yeah, great, Bruce; okay, we'll do that." So there's no stepping on each other that way. Through the years we've learned how to play in the holes between each other.

OMC: Do you have an integral hand in arrangement?

DF: In the studio, there's a system that we work out. Nowadays, Roy, Max (Weinberg, E Street Band drummer), and Garry will probably go in and do basic tracks, so the groundwork's laid down, and I'm adding color.

OMC: Who wrote the tunes on album besides Dylan, Jagger and Richards? (Federici covers "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "Miss You" on "Out of a Dream.")

DF: A combination of myself and my producer, Michael Cates.

OMC: Who played on the album besides (bassist) Juan van Dunk, (percussionist) Daniel de los Reyes, and (guitarists) Jon Johnston and Todd Parsnow?

DF: I have a guy, John Hauser, who plays guitar on the record. There's a few different jazz people, and also Darwin Martin is a keyboard player I use who doesn't have a lot of credits to his name. He went to school at (the University of) North Texas; (even) if you fall asleep in class (there), you come out really fantastic anyway. Darwin has been real important on this record. He plays a lot of the string parts and pad parts in the background. I wanted all the right players for this type of music.

OMC: Do you listen to this type of music?

DF: This is what I listen to, and this is what I play.

OMC: Are you planning a third album?

DF: Yes, I am. You sort of have to be ahead of that, you know?

OMC: What do you think it'll sound like?

DF: It'll probably be similar (to the current album) to some extent, but it might be a little more Latin-based, because I love Latin rhythm, and maybe a little more accordion on it. That's my main instrument, and I never get to play that enough. I was in Europe just recently; I was sitting at a little café, and I was listening to modern European jazzy accordion music, very European-type stuff, and it really sparked my interest.

OMC: What else are you listening to these days?

DF: I don't listen to a lot of music, because they tend to repeat themselves a lot on the radio. I hope I'm that lucky, that I'm one of those guys that gets repeated a little bit.

OMC: Who's your favorite harpsichord player?

DF: There was a guy, Bernard Cranis, years and years ago that I played with. He did baroque music. I went on a tour with the guy, and it was just fabulous.

OMC: Your favorite pianist?

DF: Actually, Brian Culbertson is my favorite pianist. He and I play similarly when it comes to piano. I'm playing a lot of piano on this record because I've played organ for so long, and I find it to be either pedal-to-the-metal rock 'n' roll or coloration, very smooth, to fatten up the sound of the band. The piano has more rhythmic qualities; it can be much more delicate. I love playing the piano.

OMC: Any other favorite pianists?

Roy, as much as it sounds patronizing. We listened to a lot of piano players after David (Sancious, first E Street Band pianist), and Roy is just a fabulous pianist. He plays just the right things.

OMC: Sancious is a hard guy to follow, isn't he?

DF: Well, David is a totally different animal when it comes to piano playing. I think David's a little bit more jazz-based. Not that Roy can't play (jazz); what the music calls for, I think, is something a little different. But that was never (Sancious') reason for leaving; he wanted to do his own thing.

OMC: Your favorite organist?

DF: My early inspiration on the (Hammond) B-3 (organ) was Felix Cavaliere from the Young Rascals. If it wasn't for Felix, I would have never played the B-3. He brought that into the music biz. I mean, that was something that was sitting in your home that nobody would ever lug out. Felix and Booker T (Jones, of The MGs).

OMC: How about your favorite accordion player?

DF: Well, when I first started, it was Myron Floren on "The Lawrence Welk Show." I think he's still out there, still playing. (Floren died this past Saturday.) Matter of fact, the other day I just picked up my first accordion, that my mom had bought me, from my hometown in Flemington. Some woman had saved it for me. I just got it here a couple days ago. It was pretty cool to look at that little thing.

OMC: What kind is it?

DF: You know, half the letters are off the front of it -- I can't tell! But I had my first music book, so I was looking at the thing: this is what started it all.

OMC: Do you have a favorite melodica player?

DF: No.

OMC: How about synthesizer?

DF: Not really; I'm a more basic-instrument kind of guy. So, even when synthesizers were big, I would just use them (because they) sounded like a piano or an organ. I would never really play the synthesizer thing.

OMC: Ever use a string synthesizer?

DF: Years ago. We used a taped-string synthesizer in the band. It was a mellotron.

OMC: On "New York City Serenade"?

DF: Yeah, and it was OK, but the notes were kind of short, because the tape was kind of short. You could only hold the string part for so long. It was a little limiting, (as) opposed to the tools we have today.

OMC: What inspired you to put glockenspiel on your records?

DF: On my records, I put it on because I thought it would be something familiar that (audiences) could attach to me.

Same (with) the organ. On "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "Miss You," I did organ on those songs because I was playing so much piano on the record. Then I figured, "You know what? These people, they know me for playing the organ. Maybe I ought to play organ on a couple of these songs." It ended up being the instrument of choice on those songs, 'cause I've tried accordion, piano, and organ on a lot of the songs. "Miss You" wouldn't have been right with piano; it had to be the organ.

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